When I’m Alone, I Don’t Have to Pretend to Be Okay

After five years of grieving my daughter, I wonder if I’m capable of being part of the world in any meaningful way.

Jacqueline Dooley
6 min readApr 22, 2022

Photo by Author

I’m an introvert, prone to isolating myself even before the pandemic. It’s difficult for me to reach out to friends and family (much less make new friends) when I need companionship and support. I often don’t recognize that I need other people around until I’ve already sunk into a deep depression.

That’s because, for me, being alone is comforting. It feels safe and familiar and easy. But it can also self destructive. It makes it difficult for me to show up for people, especially when it comes to going to parties and participating in crowded events. This tends to sabatage my friendships, leaving me — more often than not — alone with my grief.

When my solitude is caused by depression rather than the need to recharge and when I stop participating in things I love and enjoy, being alone becomes loneliness.

Before the virus shut down everything and we all withdrew into our hand-sanitized, mask-dominated bubbles, I’d begun to push back against my propensity to withdraw from the world.

I’d noticed that my withdrawal from other people had gotten much worse when I hit the three-year mark of my daughter’s death. As the memory of Ana’s life — and my loss — faded from people’s consciousness, the temptation to stay isolated had grown.

Chronic grief isn’t readily accepted in America. I grew up viewing grief as a temporary thing, as something you get over — a thing with stages that started and ended. But parental grief is a permanent condition. This will always be my reality.

I’d begun withdrawing from friends and family without realizing it, folding myself away from other people so I didn’t have to pretend to be the person I used to be. The truth is — I’m tired.

My grief is always with me, simmering beneath the surface of the small talk that’s inherently part of the normal social interactions that happen every day. Sometimes it’s buried deeply and I can function almost like a normal person, but it’s still there, a subtle ache that comes from my new place of brokenness.

Jacqueline Dooley

Essayist, content writer, bereaved parent. Bylines: Human Parts, GEN, Marker, OneZero, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Pulse, HuffPost, Longreads, Modern Loss